Residency and Album Recording at Tingas Tinsley

 

Back in August I set up a temporary studio and creative space (yes, really) in classroom 5 at the former Nursury and Infant’s School in Tinsley, with only the roar of the M1 for company.  The vast imperial-measured spaces (everything in 3’s and 12’s), discarded child-sized furniture, and half-torn notices clinging to staple-scarred pin boards indicate it’s former purpose – up until last year it was home to Tinsley’s Infants, now bundled in across the way in the snazzily extended Tinsley Meadows School.  It has a brooding quiet, (albeit with a constant white noise hum of traffic) which is occasionally now interrupted by new sounds and visitors.  

Not necessarily that these are unwelcome interruptions –  They are being encouraged and facilitated by a strong partnership, called ‘Tingas’, between Studio Polpo, Sheffield City Council, and other groups such as Tinsley Time and Travel (Heeley City Farm), Tinsley Forum, Sheffield Hallam University’s Architecture department, and small local companies like myself and My Bright Toys.  Recent events bringing the local community back in to the building have included a Medieval Fair, Arts and local Heritage Workshops (Tinsley Time and Travel) live music session recording (Heritage Song + Guests) a henna party and a 1st birthday party!  Plans are in process to bring in a range of businesses, communities and organisations to use the spaces – from local day care charities, to skills training, carpentry and hydroponic growers!

 

For my part, I’ve been spending time exploring the area, and ensconced in one of the classrooms recording my new collection of songs by Victorian Sheffield Manufacturing Optician and amateur balladeer, Edward Darbyshire.  He published a collection of ballads, poems and recitations in 1885, and I’ve made it my mission to arrange and records new settings of his funny old works.  Because of the size sound of the spaces, I’ve veered way from my usual intimate acoustic fingertickled guitar, and towards overdriven electrics.    It’s sounding great, and a real step on from previous Sheffield-focused pieces I’ve recorded (see Porter Songs 1, from 2015)   I’m aiming to finish the record in November for a release in spring next year, and it’ll feature some very special guests.

I’ve invited a few friends to join me in recording short videos in different parts of the school.  So, far, flute and whistle guru and part time model Michael Walsh (aka Trad Dad) has been jamming and recording for songs on the album.  Sheffield-based musician, poet and writer Pete Green read a chapter of his wonderful Sheffield Almanac poem, as well as recording one of his songs (out online this month).  Andy Whitehouse of The Silver Darlings visited both on his own, to record his song Drunken Sailor, and with a fledgling cosmic folk-jazz quartet, playing Cherry Blossoms in the Rain.   More guests will be dropping by in the coming weeks, and the semi-regular ‘Tinsley Tunes’ series will feature a range of art from the region and beyond.

I’m also doing some R&D to see what musical activities I could offer to the local community, and assessing the demand for things like guitar clubs, choirs, music listening clubs, or music production and songwriting.  Hopefully I can find a way of bringing local people in to the space to create some special community music.

Tinsley is a place that’s had it’s fair share of interruption – a notable one being the M1 motorway, which scythed through parts of the village, leaving roads divided on either side.  Siemens Road, which the school now sits on, was once Plumper Road.  The last remnants sit stranded on the Sheffield side of the viaduct, a lone caff sitting on the corner of nothing and the edge of nowhere.

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Despite, or maybe because of this, I’d recommend it as a place to work in.  Yes, it’s very cut off from the rest of Sheffield, Rotherham, even South Yorkshire.  It’s like an island of community surrounded by waves of industry, wasteland, and trunk roads.  Isolated.  It has a strange strength in that.  Very different from the rest of Sheffield, un-gentrified, full of opportunity.  And if you’re a cyclist like me, the commute up the 5 weirs walk along the River Don is like embarking on a post-industrial psychogeographic epic voyage through secret ‘Edgelands’ .

If you’re interested in getting involved in a real grass roots transformation of a great building, why not come along to one of the forthcoming events, or drop either myself or Tingas a line.  They are still keen to hear from businesses, established and startup, to take on space there, either on a permanent or irregular basis.  There are spaces to rent for one-off events and activities, and there seems to be a demand for all sorts of community activities.

Watch this space for new session videos, recorded at Tingas, and for some previews of the new Songs of Edward Darbyshire album.

For now, enjoy the special atmosphere created by Andy when he came to play a song in the assembly hall…

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Sharrow Songs: Creative Writing Workshop

New Mesters works at Regather was once again filled with the sound of industry and craft last night, as #SharrowSongs participants were ‘apprenticed’ to the writer and workshop facilitator Kelly Snape.

Rather than learning how to hone horn into handles (say that ten times fast), we were crafting creative writing using images of Sharrow as our raw materials.

As part of our ongoing programme of creative community sessions, I invited Kelly to come down and introduce us to ways of using images of Sharrow to spark creative writing.


First, we were invited to write an imagined ‘Postcard from Sharrow’.  A written message to friends and loved ones, from the beaches and tavernas of Sheffield City Centre.  It wasn’t too difficult as it happened – the sun was out, the magpies were sunbathing on the roof, and we all had plenty to say about the exotic culinary adventures on offer in the area (mental note to check out the amazing-sounding cakes at the Old Junior School Cafe)

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Two for Joy: Magpies enjoying a sunbathe on Regather Roof

We were clearly all a bit hungry, as Brian imagined tucking into a ‘mixed meze type thing’ in a Turkish restaurant, Scott describing ‘Restaurants from around the world side by side with abandoned works’ and Tina lovingly recreating a ‘custard/coconut/chocolate bar – never tasted anything like it (in a good way)’.  A holiday in Sharrow would clearly be a foodie one.

Others mentioned the ‘magical lantern carnival’ and the bright weather and happy atmosphere.  Our creative juices were flowing and ready to take on the main task – writing about images of Sharrow.

 

 

 

 

 

There were a range of pictures dotted around the workshop – from the permanent displays showing Horn Handle Works (Regather Works around 100 years ago)…

Horn Handle Works Display, Regather

Horn Handle Works Display, Regather

…some historical images of Sharrow such as this of the Drill Hall, courtesy of Picture Sheffield

Interior of Edmund Road Drill Hall, also known as Norfolk Barracks

Interior of Edmund Road Drill Hall, also known as Norfolk Barracks Copyright © Sheffield City Council. All rights reserved

Instagram feeds with the #Sharrow hashtag…

…photos by the the excellent Sheffield photographer Tim Dennell

No Law

…and some snaps from Scott’s commute along London Road that morning…

We were each asked to take some time to look at the images and find one which captured our imagination, for whatever reason.  When we had, we spent some time looking carefully at the image, examining it in detail, and forming a creative response to it – in whatever form that took.  We were encourage to write freely, without inhibition, and without editing.  If we got ‘stuck’, we were to write ‘banana’ until the blockage cleared and we were ready to carry on.

Kelly helped create a perfectly relaxed, comfortable and safe environment for us to create.  Many of us (myself included) probably hadn’t written with and around people in this setting for quite some time.  I know that I found it transportive, and hugely relaxing.  It was an inspiring session to be part of as we worked away, each producing our own individual take on a range of Sharrow images, nothing but the sound of pen (and Brian’s pencil) on paper, breathing, concentration and focus (and Haiku Salut’s music on the workshop playlist)


In a matter of 20 minutes the quality and range of writing we produced was fascinating.

Helen bravely went first, sharing her writing on the photo ‘No Law’ by Tim Dennell (above).  Helen lives on the Landsdowne Estate so it’s a subject close to her heart and her piece was passionate, edgy, modern spoken word delivered with real energy.  The group gave great positive feedback, comparing her style to slam poetry or beat poems.  She put into words some of the tensions of city living – wanting to make a difference in the place you live, while fearing ‘putting your head above the parapet’.

Next, I shared my stream of consciousness musings on scaffolding – the dangers (fallen restaurant signs) the challenges (1908s TV 20160418_101425assault course, winding your way through, like a crufts agility dog) the fears (one person’s elegantly faded ghost sign is another’s ‘ugly old eyesore’) and the embarrassments (coming face-to-face with a stranger “oops, sorry, you dancing?”)  It may have been too much of a glimpse into my over-caffeinated urban anxieties, but it raised a few smiles with the exploration of the mundane!

20160418_101607Next, Tina shared her pacy, electrified, abstract, impressionistic riffs on the image of flyposters on London Road.  Like the plastered shop front, Tina’s writing was multi-layered and had depth and variety.  On the printed version of the image, the dark shape on the left appeared completely black, and Tina tried to imagine what it was – where it went.  It developed a sinister presence, this nothingness, and she used it beautifully as a repeated theme in opposition to the riot of layers, nationalities and activities which the posters brought.  Again, the style of writing and delivery seemed to take on the life of the picture – fast, excited, energetic – all the things Sharrow is.  We all agreed we might struggle to sleep, as our own imaginations were drawn to the idea of this ‘black hole of London Road’ created by the torn posters.

Brian chose the image of the Drill hall – a building he has personal ties to, as his family used to attend dances there back in the day.  He astonished us by somehow, with very little editing, creating a complete historical fictional setting, with a Sheffield anti-hero (Bunting) his nemesis (the Drill Sargent) and a captivating setting of the scene.  Bunting is defined by the place in which he lives – a very specific part of Sharrow – and the places he goes, the church he attends and the pubs he visits.  All delivered in a carefully chosen voice, Brian transported us to another time, created with the help of the evocative picture of the Drill hall, and an impressive amount of knowledge of the local area (Brian will be leading a walking tour of Sharrow for us next Monday 25th April – details here).  When Brian had finished reading, we were all hooked, and ready for the next episode.  Look out for a novel coming soon I think!

Finally, Kelly shared her own piece of writing about Harland Works on John Street, a vibrant modern works.  Proving that even Sheffield folk from the lofty heights of Walkley 😉 have Sharrow Stories to share.  She described how, like the saw blade manufacturers who used to earn their living in the Works (formerly Clifton Works), she too is an apprenticed craftsperson taking Guitar lessons in one of the units there.  Now, instead of steel and blades, it’s guitars and yoga, pottery and architects.


We could have gone on longer, and it’s a sign of a good workshop when the time flies.  The writing produced about a variety of Sharrow stories was wonderful, and aligned perfectly with the aims of the Sharrow Songs project:  The local community brought together and inspired to create together.  New works exploring what it means to be in Sharrow today.

It is hoped that these new seeds of Sharrow writing will now go on to grow, and hopefully form part of the future Sharrow Songs anthology.  Watch this space for future announcements on writing and songwriting workshops to follow up this creative session.  A huge thank you to Kelly Snape, who did such a great job of guiding us on a creative journey (as one of us said ‘It wasn’t as scary as I thought it would be’) and for helping us to bring out such meaningful responses to Sharrow.  And, of course, special thanks to all the brave community creatives who came along and shared your thoughts and words with such openness and generosity.

See you next week for Brian Holmshaw’s walking tour of Sharrow: The Spaces Inbetween.  Monday 25th April, 7pm, Regather Works, Club Garden Road.

 


Special mentions to Regather for room hire and support

Kelly Snape, who is wise enough to not be on Facebook, but you can find her on Twitter Here

Picture Sheffield for a wonderful Sheffield archive resource

the lovely Sharrow photos by Sheffield photographer Tim Dennell

Haiku Salut‘s perfect creative soundtrack (‘Curated’ by Kelly)

Old Junior School Cafe for Tina’s cake

and Harland Works for being a great Sharrow hub.

Porter Songs: 1

Event: Porter Songs 1: A musical walking tour from Shepherd Wheel to Forge Dam

porter songs 1 map graphic

I’m pleased to be able to announce that my first ‘live’ performance for the project is set to take place on Sunday 21st June 2015 at Shepherd Wheel. The research is done, the programme is taking shape, risk assessments completed and I’m beginning rehearsals for what should be a great day of music and storytelling. Shepherd Wheel on a cool, sunny day I’ll be taking two tours on the day, one at 11am, and one at 1:30pm, which will start with some music at Shepherd Wheel, before going up along the Porter Brook for a musical history tour, finishing at Forge Dam.  I’m very excited about what will be a new way of performing for me – as a kind of historical busker on tour.

My aim is to share some hidden stories of the Porter’s past, through a carefully prepared programme of traditional and original songs, as well as a couple of modern covers.

Details of how to get to Shepherd Wheel can be found via the SIMT website here.  There’s plenty of opportunity for refreshments both at the end of the performance at Forge Dam Cafe (they do a mean chip butty), and now with the lovely Wheel Coffee, which is set up right opposite Shepherd Wheel.

Because of the off-road nature of parts of the route, I’m afraid it’s probably not suitable for wheelchair users or people with limited mobility (but there are plans to develop separate events to cater for all audiences) The event is free, but donations are welcome.   There will be a small merchandise stall there, selling CDs and Souvenir Programmes.  Money raised will be shared between me and other performers, SIMT and FoPV. Please book a place at the event by emailing scott@sheffieldwheels.co.uk stating whether you’d like to come for the morning or afternoon trip.  The performances will start at 11am and 1:30pm sharp, so please get there with time to spare.

The overflow weir at Forge Dam

The overflow weir at Forge Dam

Here’s a nice selection of music to whet your appetite… all music which is inspiring and informing me at the moment. https://open.spotify.com/user/scott_russell/playlist/7EIsYYDAcwDSlgdh9li6vA

Field Trip: 10th May 2014 | Abbeydale Industrial Hamlet

The Sheffield Industrial Museums Trust put on a ‘do’ last weekend at the Abbeydale Industrial Hamlet, and I do like a good do.

It’s a pretty special place, the Hamlet, being one of only a few preserved historical industrial sites in the country.  More than just a museum, it’s a living, breathing place where you can immerse yourself in our local working past.

I loved wandering around with my camera, soaking up the atmosphere, taking time to imagine the place as it would have been.  It wasn’t difficult to do – the place had been restored to what seems like an authentic condition, with tools, benches, vessels and all sorts of artifacts dotted around as if the workers had just down-tools moments ago.

I’m not a believer in the afterlife, or of spirit worlds, ghosts and ghouls, but I did get the feeling that this place held a lot of lost lives within its walls.  Some of the rooms had an eerie atmosphere, I often felt as if I was getting in the way, like a Victorian ‘Teemer’ would barge past at any moment to get back to work.

When I wasn’t wandering around, daydreaming, I enjoyed the buzz of activity in the courtyard: wolfed down an amazing burger from the lovely charity-run Whirlow Hall Farm BBQ; there were rousing anthems from the Escafeld Brass Band; heritage craft displays from forging, to woodworking and weaving; cupcakes, recycled cutlery sculptures, a visit from the Lord Mayor, and displays from the local craftspeople who make Abbeydale their home.

For me, there’s so much potential for inspiration in somewhere like the AIH.  I’d love to spend time writing, playing and recording music in a venue like that.  Whenever I’ve tried writing in a different place, away from my own territory, I’m always pleased with what comes out.  AIH is also a great space for an event, with an enclosed courtyard providing a natural amphitheater, and loads of spaces in which you could set up site-specific installations.  I’m hoping that I’ll get to spend a lot of time there in the future, and that I’ll be able to tell something of its story through the music I make.

Field Trip: 8th May 2014 | The Cutting Edge

It seems there’s always lots going on in Sheffiel .  It’s not surprising given it’s long history of hard work, industriousness and graft.  I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve seen events listed on the brilliant ‘Timewalk Project’ Google Calendar and thought “I’ll get to the next one”.

Finally, I have an evening off, and there’s a cracking event for me to dash to in the Punto.  “A brief history of Sheffield’s involvement with the Cutlery trade” a presentation and fundraiser at the Portland Works just off Bramhall lane.

About halfway between the city centre and my house, Portland Works is a place brimming with history brought alive by a dedicated group of volunteers.  Without the hard work and passion of these people, one of the last remaining cutlery works in Sheffield was threatened with development into yet more identikit ‘luxury’ flats.

Instead, it’s now home to a bustling mix of creative and manufacturing industries.  From hand-made custom knife maker Stuart Mitchell, to fine artist Mary Sewell,  vintage vehicle restorer Jimmy Holmes to experimental electroacoustic record label Singing Knives Records, it’s all going on at the Works, where traditional industrial manufacturers work side-by-side with Sheffield creatives.

Many of the tenants were there last night for a special presentation by ‘naturalised Yorkshireman’ and owner of the Famous Sheffield Shop, Paul Iseard.  He told the story of his lifelong love affair with knifes and cutlery, how Sheffield became one of the centres for metal and cutlery manufacturing, and how changes in social dining paved the way for cutlery design innovation and development.  He also shared with us some of his prized collection, a stunning treasure trove of beautifully designed and made pieces.  I’ll be saving up to make a trip down ‘Eccy Road’ soon (I think ‘Pocket Knifes’ is my thing).

After the talk I got to meet some of the team behind the Works, and a few of the businesses based there.  I even got a ‘backstage’ tour from Carl Witham, (who is a local photographer and runs the Portland Works Studio) seeing the cramped ‘village within a village’ layout of the factory from one of the workshop roofs.    It’s easy to imagine the place one hundred years ago when Harry Brearly and Earnest Stuart were making their groundbreaking discovery of stainless steel.  Hundreds of workers, men, women and children, busily going about their back-breaking work, completing the full chain of production from metal working, to grinding, to buffing, packing and selling.

Truly a hive of industry then, just as it is now.  Long may it remain so.

The Wheels Research Reading List

Most of my time spent on the project so far has been either in the local Sheffield Libraries (long may they continue) or at home, rummaging around on the internet.  So far, these are the texts I’ve been studying in an attempt to really get to grips with the subject.

You can find a more in-depth description of these resources on the ‘research’ page here…